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Visiting Old Highway 61 The “Write” Way

Blog and Photos by Gail Gates

“Thanks to the interstate highway system, it is now possible to travel from coast to coast without seeing anything”.  -Charles Kuralt



I don’t know about you, but when I visit a new area or an area that I’ve returned to after a lapse of time, I love to seek out gift shops.  I don’t care if the gift shop is in a gas station, an art center, a historical society, or a state park.  It’s fun to snoop and see what someone deemed worthy of capturing a visitor/tourist’s eye.

Call me an elitist, but I don’t want stuff imported from other parts of the world.  I want something that screams “local,” and is perhaps quirky.  Potholders made by the Lutheran Ladies Aid group at a nearby church? Yes!  A carved spoon depicting a baby loon riding its mother’s back? Yep. Or how about a photograph of a nearby dam before it burst ten years ago (and hasn’t been rebuilt due to a lack of funding).  Done!

More often than not I have to be sneaky in my shopping.  My husband is wise to my gift shop cravings and keeps a close eye on my wallet and me.

The scenario usually goes something like this…

MeHey, Lovebug, before we leave the history center I’m going to look for a restroom.

LovebugDidn’t you just go at the gas station, like, five minutes ago?

MeYeeeees, I did. But you know I’ve been drinking the 200 oz. Bladder buster fountain drink that, for a limited time only, is only 59 cents with any purchase.

Lovebug: Is that why you bought 12 bookmarks depicting the great Hinckley fire of 1894, a commemorative beer stein, and corn nuts?

Me: Oh, you saw those? Um, yes. Well, 59 cents is a great deal on a fountain drink, and I was quite moved by the history of that fire.  Anyway, I’ll be right back.  Meet you outside? (I do a little foot shuffle in an effort to depict the urgency of my bathroom needs.)


MeReally, dear, I’ll just be a moment…

LovebugNo, I just noticed the reconstructed beaver dam display over there.



He wanders off.

Okay, I figure I’ve got 10 minutes, max if I tell him there was a line.  There’s always a line for the ladies restroom, right?

I take the long way around to the gift shop, dodging and ducking as needed.  I just spy a shelf of blown glass Christmas ornaments made by a local artist when my husband backs into me.

Me: Hey! I, um, thought I’d just take a quick peek in the gift shop, you know, on my way to the restroom.

LovebugWhat a surprise! Since I knew this was where you were headed, I decided I’d look at books written about local history.

Okay, so he’s a bit of a history junkie, and way more virtuous than me. Wherever we travel his souvenir of choice is a book of local lore.  And maybe those books are a little cooler than my “pet rock” that has Rutledge painted on it.  Maybe.



And, I have to confess, I usually end up reading the books he buys too. How fun is it to learn about past doings, scandals, and trivia? Lots, that how.

Here are a few resources to get you started as you head up Old Highway 61:

  • ‘Seasons in Pine City’ collected works by local authors (found at the Pine Center for the Arts)

Enjoy the books, the gift shops, and the joy of traveling Old Highway 61.

Now if you would excuse me, I need to visit the restroom…

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